The Swamp Angel

By Herman Melville 1819–1891 Herman Melville
There is a coal-black Angel
      With a thick Afric lip,
And he dwells (like the hunted and harried)
      In a swamp where the green frogs dip.
But his face is against a City
      Which is over a bay of the sea,
And he breathes with a breath that is blastment,
      And dooms by a far decree.

By night there is fear in the City,
      Through the darkness a star soareth on;
There’s a scream that screams up to the zenith,
      Then the poise of a meteor lone—
Lighting far the pale fright of the faces,
      And downward the coming is seen;
Then the rush, and the burst, and the havoc,
      And wails and shrieks between.

It comes like the thief in the gloaming;
      It comes, and none may foretell
The place of the coming—the glaring;
      They live in a sleepless spell
That wizens, and withers, and whitens;
      It ages the young, and the bloom
Of the maiden is ashes of roses—
      The Swamp Angel broods in his gloom.

Swift is his messengers’ going,
      But slowly he saps their halls,
As if by delay deluding.
      They move from their crumbling walls
Farther and farther away;
      But the Angel sends after and after,
By night with the flame of his ray—
      By night with the voice of his screaming—
Sends after them, stone by stone,
      And farther walls fall, farther portals,
And weed follows weed through the Town.

Is this the proud City? the scorner
Which never would yield the ground?
Which mocked at the coal-black Angel?
The cup of despair goes round.

Vainly she calls upon Michael
(The white man’s seraph was he),
For Michael has fled from his tower
To the Angel over the sea.

Who weeps for the woeful City
Let him weep for our guilty kind;
Who joys at her wild despairing—
Christ, the Forgiver, convert his mind.

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Herman Melville 1819–1891

Subjects War & Conflict, Horror, Social Commentaries, Mythology & Folklore

 Herman  Melville


Although chiefly known for his magisterial novel Moby-Dick and for other prose works, Herman Melville was also a fascinating poet who turned to the art after his serious fiction failed to find appreciative readers. His eccentric verse displays the complexity of thought and verbal richness of his novels, which has led some critics to rank him just below Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson among 19th-century American poets.

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, Horror, Social Commentaries, Mythology & Folklore

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.